Steelhead soft hackle: the Salmon River Rajah

The Salmon River Rajah is based on an old steelhead pattern called the Rajah. I discovered the Rajah many years ago when I was researching patterns online. The accompanying text referenced the book Fly Patterns of Alaska, a slim but potent volume. Turns out it was previously listed in Trey Combs’ book Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies. (Combs credits the pattern to one Arthur Solomon.)

I tied up a few Rajahs, but I wasn’t thrilled with the materials: bucktail, chenille (which I consider a lifeless material), polar bear, black thread. So I made some changes: bucktail to hackle fibers, chenille to Estaz, polar bear to Arctic fox, black thread to red. I even ramped up the tinsel factor from flat silver to holographic braid.

The result is the Salmon River Rajah, a flashier fly with far more seductive movement than the original. I named it for the river where I have seen ambivalent steelhead go out of their way to eat it.  I first published the pattern in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of American Angler, where I wrote: The coldest day I ever went steelheading began with the mercury just a few degrees above zero. By mid-afternoon, it had barely made it into double digits. I was fishing a Salmon River Rajah under an indicator. As the fly completed its drift along the bottom, it began to swing up and downstream. I saw the wake before I ever felt the strike. It was a steelhead that had been in the river a while, its chrome flanks long since transitioned to deep winter hues. Any fly that can urge a dark horse to chase it down in thirty-three degree water on a day that would keep many skiers at home has a permanent spot in my steelhead box.

More recently, I was fishing the Salmon River Rajah when it snagged on the bottom. After freeing the fly, I was stripping it in to check the hook point…WHACK! That’s pretty good stuff.

The Salmon River Rajah

Culton_Rajah 1

Hook: Atlantic Salmon size 6-8
Thread: Red 6/0
Tail: Hot pink hackle fibers
Body: Rear two-thirds Lagartun holographic silver mini-flatbraid, front one-third opal pink Estaz
Hackle: Hot pink
Wing: Sparse white Arctic fox
Feel free to play around with color. I also like this fly in hot orange (tail, Estaz, hackle).
The Salmon River Rajah Rogues’ Gallery:



8 comments on “Steelhead soft hackle: the Salmon River Rajah

  1. mfs686 says:

    This looks like a good one for my trip to Alaska next summer.

  2. Steve hackle or schlappen? best Rob


  3. Paul Sweeney says:

    Hey Steve, I’m going to whip some of these up and swing them on the 2 hander , maybe in the DSR or upriver in a couple weeks. Just got back and the smaller stuff seems to be the ticket.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Good idea. I always let them swing up at drift’s end when I fish them under an indicator. Please let me know if you get any positive votes!

      • Paul Sweeney says:

        I certainly will Steve and I’ll be looking for you at Marlboro. I’d like to show you a couple samples of wets I’ve tied because I have the same question Downtowntrout put on the table above. One I tied with a strung hackle and the other with schlappin. I like the larger profile the stiffer hackle makes but wonder if I’m giving up movement the softer schlappin might provide ? Theres some other good stuff but that can wait for the show.

      • Steve Culton says:

        When I pull the fly out of the water, the hackle is completely collapsed around the shank of the hook. That’s not to say another effect will adversely affect the bite trigger — it’s just how I tie the fly. See you in January.

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